Would you eat at a Kitchen Nightmares restaurant?

For those of you who’ve never seen Kitchen Nightmares, it’s a show (actually, two shows, a UK and a US version but they’re pretty much the same show) in which Gordon Ramsay fixes a failing restaurant. All the shows are basically the same. There is a reality TV style summary of the family that owns the restaurant (it is almost ALWAYS a family.) Then Ramsay shows up and sits down to sample some of the food. He then looks around. His findings are always:

a) The food isn’t fit to be served to raccoons,
b) The decor appears to have been chosen and installed by vandals, and
c) The kitchen is a horrifying dump.

Once in awhile one of those conditions isn’t true - once he went to a soul food restaurant (in Brighton, England, of all places) and found the food delicious. I think that was about it.

What always freaks me out is how gross the kitchens often are. I’m talking dangerous. Vegetables swimming in raw chicken juice, things that honestly could make you deathly ill.

Of course he always fixes it… but would you eat at such a place a month later? Maybe it was great when he left, but it’s the same mooks running the restaurant. Would you trust them to keep the kitchen clean?

Maybe. Spunky Monkey wasn’t on Kitchen Nightmares but it was on a similar show (Restaurant Impossible with Robert Irvine) and it’s supposedly not that bad. It’s in the same town I live in, I should check it out sometime.

No. Poor service, ugly decor, boring food, etc. might be the result of ignorance, which can be fixed. I wouldn’t trust my well-being to a professional (cook, lawyer, doctor, etc.) who’s been associated with anything reckless or unscrupulous.

Kitchen Nightmares is my secret shame and glad to see others are probably in the same camp.

Even accounting for KN’s selecting a particular type of Catastrophe Restaurant, and their careful editing, I think the show does a reasonable job in analysing their business and service failures and attributing blame. Ramsay is a tosser but hugely competent in this area.

When they have no-hoper chefs Gordon usually chases them out [after publicly crushing them on TV like bugs], but most often the blame is with owners who have complete inability to manage a complex food operation. Food service hygiene requires constant attention and that is one thing the bad owners are not capable of, either because they are in thrall of dirt-bag or bullying chefs, lazy and stupid or they are simply incompetent failed humans. Those people don’t change, they slip back in to their old ways. The massive kitchen clean will not be repeated without a sweary twat and his camera crew on their backs and they will slip into their old ways the minute he’s gone.

I won’t be eating there.

Food service hygiene? Lol

To be fair, that article was written over 20 years ago and a lot has changed since then. When I first worked in food service in 2000, I didn’t have to wear gloves or a hair restraint, undergo any kind of food safety training, or even wash my hands all that often except when I used the bathroom or came back from break. Today, gloves and hair restraints are mandated by law, anyone with facial hair beyond a mustache has to wear a beard net (though in practice everyone’s wearing a face mask these days), food workers have to get a state-operated certification that has to be renewed every few years, and handwashing is much more rigorously enforced.

Thats fair enough. There were also laws in place in 99 and they were seemingly ignored. But it was Manhattan and the service industries have always been a cesspool of corruption. Hopefully things are better today.

Hell, when I started working for Jack in the Box in 2004, there were still grill cooks at that store who’d started in the days when it was common practice to grab raw beef patties out of the freezer with your bare hands, toss them onto the grill, and then go right to assembling and wrapping burgers, or bagging finished orders, or ringing people up. Even by then doing that would have been grounds for severe discipline, and though I don’t work there anymore I can only imagine it’s gotten stricter since then - raw patties are handled with a dedicated set of tongs that never come into contact with anything else, and hand-washing and glove-changing has to happen if you touch raw food before you can touch cooked food, or if you handle cash before handling food.

Industry and government are a lot more aware now of the dangers of cross-contamination and foodborne illness, in due in no small part to the Jack in the Box e.coli cases back in '93.

Ah, yes, Kitchen Nightmares with Gordon Ramsey. A guilty pleasure - my favorite episode was Amy’s Baking Company in Scottsdale, AZ. Totally delusional owners who invited Gordon to assess their place to combat online critics, which backfired badly. The only episode where he gave up and walked away.

While the show is formulaic, and with creative editing focuses on (or creates) negatives, as mentioned, rarely permanently corrects critical problems, like incompetent owners. I believe a majority of the restaurants on the show end up closed anyway, even with Gordon’s well-intentioned efforts. So it’s likely not possible to visit one near you. I suspect getting on the show is not an erstwhile effort to save the business but instead a way for a failing business to make a little money and get attention at the end of its life. I don’t think they advertise being on the show, either.

No, I would not eat at one.

I have eaten at one - but to be fair, it was a 1* Michelin restaurant that had lost its chef, its star and therefore its customers, and wasn’t quite the nightmare some other places have been.

It was the Walnut Tree in Wales, which has regained some of its former glory - and its Michelin star.

After watching a bunch of episodes of Kitchen Nightmares (as well as the similar Restaurant: Impossible), I think I could identify the same problems mentioned on the shows; overly long menus, poorly seasoned food, food not stored properly, filthy kitchen, filthy dining room, etc. So how is it the people who ask for help don’t go through and fix these problems before calling in for help? Many times, it’s a surprise to the restaurant owner how much food is in the freezers, or how dirty the kitchen is.

So if they were so unaware of things prior to calling in for help, how long before the problems recur? That’s a big reason why I’d be reluctant to eat at one of these restaurants.

I am also addicted to these shows, and one thing I’ve learned from them is that 90% of people who want to own a restaurant have no business doing it.

I’ve read “where are they now” articles about some of these places, and a common theme seems to be that they slide right back into their old bad habits. If they’re going right back to using canned or frozen foods and mismanaging their funds, why am I supposed to believe they’re keeping the kitchen clean and storing stuff properly?

My daughter is the assistant manager of a chain restaurant (I’ll call it Purple Crawdad) and she says kitchen cleanliness and food safety are top priorities. The health inspectors come and poke and prod around everything. Out of soap or paper towels by the handwash station? Violation. Frozen stuff on the floor instead of up on a pallet? Violation. Employee’s soda in the food prep area? Violation. One time the scooper in the ice machine was found with the handle touching the ice. The whole thing had to be emptied and sterilized, and Corporate was very unhappy and they actually had to have a training meeting to instruct the staff to store the scoop in its designated bucket on top of the machine and not in it. The reports are also published in the newspaper so everyone gets to hear about your den of filth.

They maybe go too far in the other direction now, but all it takes is one nosy inspector or a germophobic customer who goes to corporate or leaves a bad Yelp review and corporate gets very unhappy. And they make everyone even more very unhappy then.

My first work experience was as a pizza cook in a Chuck E Cheese. Because I was the newest one there, one of my shifts was closing on Saturday nights. And before I could leave, I had to leave the kitchen spotless. The restaurant manager once found a stray pepperoni slice under the prep table and that wasn’t good enough.

The point is that the chain restaurants seem much more aware of the safety standards and regulations than the independent restaurants featured on these shows.

Oh, I agree. Before COVID she worked at a much smaller neighborhood kind of place, and while they ran a clean kitchen it didn’t have to be operating room sterile. I put it down to fear of Corporate.

BTW, another bit that’s always fun when watching these shows is when Gordon Ramsay or Robert Irvine or whoever else is the outside expert asks the restaurant owner how much it costs to make a particular dish, and the owner has no clue. Sometimes, the ingredient cost for a dish is more than half the price of the dish (and even I know that the formula is that the ingredient cost should be a third or less).

That trainwreck of an episode was something else! That would’ve been the only restaurant I would visit, but I would go with the hopes of seeing that lovely couple have a meltdown.

In my county the Dept of Health is tasked with making inspection reports public. All restaurants appear to be required to display a Green/Yellow/Red placard at the entrance, and via their online search page you can check the status of your favorite restaurant, along with viewing their latest health inspection report. Fun times!

I look at the US and UK versions as very different shows with the same premise. The UK show feels more real and the US show is much more reality TV. I enjoy the UK version much more because it seems to be more about fixing the restaurant and the US version is more about personality conflicts.

As to if I would go to one of the restaurants, it would really depend on the place.

The original UK Kitchen Nightmares seemed to be more about the psychology of the situation while the American version emphasizes a big, expensive remodeling, usually included sponsored products. And I still shake my head when I remember the very first episode, featuring a very young guy in way over his head as the chef.